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Afsc Survival in Solitary Manual 1997

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A manual written by & for people living in control units
This manual is published by
American Friends Service Cimmittee
In November, 1997.
It may be freely reproduced.

Dedicated to those who have contributed to this manual
to all courageous people living in prison

The federal penitentiary in Marion, Illinois, went on permanent lock down in 1983. This
created the first “control unit”. Now, in addition to the federal government, some forty
states have built these “maxi-maxi” prisons — representations of the angry and cruel
repression that grips our country today. Human beings are put alone in a small cell with
double steel doors and no window for 23 hours a day. No program, no work, no
education, meals alone, and maybe one hour by oneself in a bare dog-run outside. A
religious task force calls such conditions psychological pain and agony tantamount to
torture. It is torture. Here, now, in the following pages, people who are captives in these
cells write about what goes on and how you can survive…

I. Letters from Prisoners – Life in a control unit
II. Letters from Prisoners - Survival
III. Past Times
IV. The Community Outside
V. Acknowledgments


Sensory Deprivation is Depravity
From within and beyond the one hundred thousand dollar 8 by 14 sq. ft. steel and stone
Sensory Deprivation cell that is designed for my mental, physical, and social dehumanization, I bring to you this letter of concern regarding the adverse effects of longterm Sensory Deprivation.
After spending over a year in the Supermax undergoing long-term intensive solitary
confinement, denied and deprived of direct human contact, I was transferred back to the
Maryland Penitentiary. Upon seeing me for the first time in over a year, a fellow prisoner
shook my hand and then proceeded to put both arms around me to embrace me and I
became visibly shaken and cringed up as if I had been physically violated. I had not had
any physical contact with another human being in so long that I wasn’t used to being
touched. I had become super-sensitive to one of the basic human senses - the sense of
human touch.
Welcome to the “Sensory Deprivation Experience.” Definition: self-explanatory - the
deliberate and intentional stripping of the cell down to an isolation cell, then the stripping
of the individual down to the basic necessities, even down to the personal effects. Then
locked within this cell twenty-three hours a day with barely the bare essentials, where
even the wall-mounted stainless steel mirror in the segregation cells is removed from the
walls so that even the sight of one’s own image is denied. This is Sensory Deprivation.
And no matter how strong a person is, Sensory Deprivation is depravity at its worst. All
five basic human senses — sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste — are severely
suppressed — when one is slowly, but surely, and very subtly stripped of all the common
sentiments of humanity.
Under these adverse conditions of confinement, one tends to crave a change of scenery,
location, atmosphere, and environment just so s/he can see new sights instead of the same
ole, everyday, mind-deadening routine and faceless faces ... hear new and different
sounds other than the quiet, indescribable silence that seems to speak louder than noise
... smell different scents besides the foul, stale, contemptible odor so common to
everyday existence in this bottomless pit ... one seeks to touch base with, feel and
embrace another human in an intimate, sensitive, humane, compassionate, personal way
as opposed to the impersonal, inhumane, insensitive, degrading manner ... one develops a
strong, intense desire to taste various foods besides the same ole, tasteless, non-variety,
everyday, recycled meals. One is served just enough food to have a bowel movement,
just enough to stay alive. This is Sensory Deprivation where even ones sense of taste,
appetite, and taste buds is denied and deprived.
All of the aforementioned increased, heightened senses are common among convicted
persons held in prisons, but such senses are magnified one hundred times in Control Unit
Sensory Deprivation Prisons. Steel and stone torture chambers where, absent various
forms of social stimuli, the human mind can become so debased, so de-humanized, and

sink so low that if one isn’t careful, there is a tendency to adjust, conform, and accustom
oneself to a standard of living that is lower than that which exists within the animal
kingdom. This is the adverse effect of long-term Sensory Deprivation. It is a form of
physical, social, and psychological torture, and it pushes many self-respecting, rational
thinking, decent-minded men and women to a quest for excitement, acts of desperation,
and to the most extreme points of paranoia.
After spending over a year in the Supermax, I was transferred back to the Maryland
Penitentiary without any consideration given to the desocialization process I had
undergone. Nor was any provision made to resocialize me back into a general population
setting. Upon having difficulty adjusting into general population, it became necessary for
me to be placed on punitive segregation for refusing to be housed in a cell with another
human being. There was a time when I could tolerate double-cell housing on a temporary,
short-term, voluntary basis, but after my experience with Sensory Deprivation, I have
now become more anti-social than ever before and I now have a zero-degree tolerance
level for double-celling and general population settings.
As a result, for the past five years that I have been out of the Supermax, I have spent a
total of only seven months in a general population setting.
In addition, on two occasions, I have had official street charges pressed against me. This
never before happened to me in the entire history of my imprisonment. I am currently
waiting to go to trial for the latest charge. I have not received, encouraged, nor welcomed
any outside contact by way of visits from family members, loved ones, or friends in the
past five years since leaving Supermax. This entire experience is uncharacteristic of me,
but I believe the underlying root cause is the social dislocation I have suffered from my
first encounter with Supermax’s Sensory Deprivation. I am only now beginning to
question and understand what has happened to me.
Now that I am back in the Supermax for a second time, armed with this overstanding of
what Sensory Deprivation actually is, I am less likely to leave Supermax no better off for
my experience than when I first arrived. My concern now is with controlling and
reversing the ill-effects of my first encounter with Sensory Deprivation. Otherwise, I am
concerned that my social dislocation will in all likelihood go from bad to worse, and ruin
me to the extent that not only would I not be mentally, physically, or socially fit for a
general population setting, but society in general.
Ronald Epps

Psychological Effects and Political Platform
I. Psychological Effects of SHU (security housing unit) on prisoners. Psych. Torture
takes form of physical pain (i.e. migraines, stress-related illnesses, suicide, etc.)
The situation (evidence of physical torture) that I am about to present is not an isolated
reality, this is a daily ritual which occurs throughout the Pelican Bay SHU.
Three stages to strategy of psychological torture: 1st , 2nd , and 3rd “Watches.”

1. The Guard makes noise in early AM hours, every morning. Any complaint results only
in the antagonization of the situation.
2. Slamming food ports when guards serve meals. Every day. Deliberate action to
antagonize, irritate and exercise and flaunt power dynamic.
3. Excessive noise when doing all four counts: ll:00pm, l:00am, 2:30am, and 4:00am.
Again, deliberate exercise of power, disrespect, and brandish power.
Other forms include: from blasting the P.A. system to intentionally withholding personal
“Those who lack the knowledge and understanding of torture and its different
applications may dismiss the significance of the evidence that I have presented, but
before you do, allow me to bring your attention to certain facts that will substantiate my
evidence. Sound is a well known tactic in both psychological warfare and torture, from
the sound of dripping water to the blasting of loud music. The recent Waco massacre is a
perfect example. When the U.S. racist, fascist government used loud music and bright
lights as a tool of torture against women and children, the results varied, from sleep
deprivation to the constant shocking of the nerves.”

Political Issues

The constant emotional abuse leads to permanently disturbed ex-cons who then re-enter
society with needs for therapy, or without the facilities to adequately re-adjust. Either
way, they continue to cost the tax-payers money. The Correction Department is failing at
its goals of correction.
“The prison system is now a sanctuary to preserve and proliferate the Criminal Mentality
Syndrome. This is the very psychological disposition which guarantees the continuity of
the government scheme to financially benefit from the inner city crime. This also
explains why there is no genuine effort on part of the CDC (California Department of
Corrections) to implement a serious program for criminal rehabilitation, especially here
in the security housing unit at Pelican Bay. The CDC fully understands the absence of
such programs would only increase the recidivism rate among its prison population.
Crime prevention or criminal rehabilitation would in fact undermine the government’s
CDC endeavors to economically exploit the New Afrikan and Latino/Mexican
communities via poverty and crime!!”
CDC Deliberate Indifference Clause
“The evolution of civilization cannot be discussed without discussing the evolution of
human mortality. The control-unit prisons and their proliferation is a perfect example of a
society’s immorality. How could any society justify the existence of such a brutal and
inhumane place?”

Rehabilitation programs, especially education
Racially diverse independent review board


Black community parole board
Tax-payers allowed to tour Pelican Bay SHU
Compensation to victims of extortion schemes
Termination of employees involved in torture of prisoners
End to the criminalization of Prisoners’ Rights Activists
Release political prisoners and P.O.W.’s
Abdul 0. Shakur

On April 20th, 1990 former hostage, Dr. Robert Polhill was released by his kidnappers.
He stated the following to the media while being interviewed: “I survived by staying
angry at my kidnappers, I was able to keep my focus this way. Had I allowed my anger to
leave me, and not stayed angry for what was happening to me, I wouldn’t have made it.”
The news media reported on the release of Dr. Polhill and I watched the three different
networks, although each reported on the story from a somewhat different angle, I noticed
each anchorperson and each network appeared to praise Dr. Polhill regarding his anger.
The general consensus was that he had a right to be angry and I think we all agree that
anytime you’re held against your will, captive, told what to do, how to do it and when to
do it, naturally you will have aggression towards your overseer. Yet the Corrections
Department deems it as inappropriate behavior when a prisoner demonstrates anger after
being confined for a period of years. Dr. Polhill was held for a little over two years while
some men are incarcerated for ten, fifteen, twenty-five years. How can the department
and society have the audacity to expect that prisoners remain passive and docile when to
do so is against the very nature of a human being?
The anger one feels from being held captive is akin to slavery. It sets off emotions that
few will ever know, short of being in a hostage situation or in an American prison.

The Senses
When I first heard of sensory deprivation, it was being associated with the conditions of
which I was subjected to, of which I and others similarly situated, were suffering from.
But even to this day, I have not been informed or educated as to exactly how sensory
deprivation targets and effects the human being. It was only through personal research,
and contemplation, that the connection with sensory deprivation and our day to day
afflictions by it became profoundly understood. The fundamental principle upon which
any of our endeavors may be successful, is to understand the nature of our human makeup, and those elements that either complement it, or harm it.
I humbly believe that first and foremost in our struggle to overcome and survive this
cruel and evil practice of sensory deprivation, is to take the two words (sensory,

deprivation), and analyze them in their individual components. Sensory: directly relating
to our basic five senses of sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch — essential components
in every human being’s make-up. It is the senses that by nature establish contact with the
natural elements of creation (environment) and are stimulated towards development and
growth. The natural elements in the environment provide that necessary contact with the
senses in which we as human beings may know the inner relationship with the outer
world. Wo/mankind looks upon the natural elements and through them, knowledge and
understanding is stimulated. The human looked upon the birds and discovered the plane,
he observed the whale and discovered the submarine. Our forest trees attribute to the
oxygen in the atmosphere as our flowers and roses contribute to the fragrance that
stimulates smell and allows us to discover commodities as perfume and colognes,
It is the sense of touch, in which we made contact with the wild life (animals) and found
comfort in furs and skins, cloth. A child will see a butterfly (sight sense) and our dear
child’s motor skills will be activated, curiosity will lead them to chase it in play. In each
element of nature there is a direct connection with the senses in which the human being is
always stimulated. The thoughts are activated, creativity is contemplated and realized,
human potential is cultivated and most importantly, balanced sociability is fostered.
Deprivation: means to deprive someone of something, to take away, or debar. In relation
to the senses, that have just been set forth, to deprive would mean: creating the structural
setting in which the senses are cut off from contact with the natural elements of creation.
To prevent the senses from having contact with the natural elements would result in
depriving the senses the necessary stimulant for healthy growth and development as a
human being.
The will and motivation towards creativity or productivity would be numbed by the
absence of environmental stimulant. (I sound like one of them witnesses giving testimony
before a hearing.) Anyway, when the architects of PBSP (Pelican Bay State Prison) built
this SHU, they designed it for the express purpose of making sure that its captives would
suffer an inhumane deprivation of the senses. For those of us faced with each awakening
day inside of these tombs, we must forever be mindful of the overwhelming effects
taking place each moment of our existence. As children growing up in the natural
environment outside of these walls, we have come into contact with the natural elements
of creation. Our senses were nurtured to the extent upon which we developed a relation
with the birds, flowers, trees, ocean, animals, etc., that shall always be an ingrained part
of our humanity.
It is from those experiences that we must always rely upon in contemplating, meditating,
and visualizing the world we know. Those who have televisions: spend time watching
nature programs, not for the lone sake of entertainment, but now in the context of an
everyday struggle in which we realize the forces of sensory deprivation. Ponder the
insights entailed within nature itself, as we look at animals, life beneath the sea, the
galactical skies, the ecological systems, and we shall prevail.
Latif Asad Abdullah

What Survival Is
Survival is being spiritually and mentally filled by the Angels of Justice fighting the fight
for our liberation from Pelican Bay SHU. Survival is possessing the intellect to know
when the psych comes into the housing unit to ask the mentally unstable if they need a
psych line, and you realize how ridiculous he sounds — you’re surviving. Survival is
waking up in the morning, in a sound mind, realizing that one was not killed during the
night or moved to some unknown destination. Survival is hearing one’s neighbor
laughing out loud because his son or daughter received a good grade in school or a great
report card. Survival is when one can assist his neighbor in his time of need, no matter
what his racial, political or cultural views may be. Survival is hearing one’s neighbor call
out to make sure the man is not taking advantage of one, and to let the man know you’re
not alone. Survival is being able to state to oneself that I have made it through another
day — without being killed, beaten half to death or made to stand in a shower or holding
cell naked, hand-cuffed for hours (for not moving fast enough, or having the wrong look,
not using the right words, or for speaking out on injustices) — having one’s dignity at the
end of the day still intact to fight another day. And giving thanks to whatever God one
might believe in, before closing one’s eyes for sleep. You smile because you have
survived another day at Pelican Bay.
Bambari S. Kelly Andersen

Inner Consciousness v. Isolation
Before I begin sharing what I feel are some valid key points on “how to survive” the
isolation in these dungeons, death traps, hell holes, SHU’s, Supermax — or whatever you
want to call them — let me first touch on three facts we can all agree on — a consensus:
1) The barbarian architects behind these sickass designs had (have) serious mental
problems dealing with their own inferiority syndrome and dealing with peoples in the
2) These holes were purposely designed as a torture chamber to break you mentally and
physically into submission and to abandon your own beliefs, etc.
3) The isolations and restrictions in these dungeons that our captors like referring to as
Control Units vary from state to state, prison to prison — some more isolated and
restricted than others - however, their structure and use have the same malicious intent,
and that is to control your existence and way of thinking.
This brings me to another very important point that I would like to paraphrase from
Carter G. Woodson:
If you control a man’s thinking, you do not have to worry about his action. When you
determine what a man shall think, you do not have to concern yourself about that he
will do. If you make a man feel that he is inferior, you do not have to compel him to

accept an inferior status for he will seek it himself. If you make a man think that he is
justly an outcast, you do not have to order him to the backdoor. He will go without
being told; and if there is no back door, his very nature will demand one...
You recall the old adage — cliché: don’t let time do you, you do the time. There is great
truth in that above cliché.
I have now been in prison 20 years and 18 of them have been spent in various SHU’s
(holes) - from D.V.I. Folsom State Prison, San Quentin (briefly), then to the new more
high tech isolation chambers at Corcoran State Prison and now Pelican Bay State Prison.
I have now been here since 1990.
I have many years of experience in these hell holes and have witnessed a great deal in
terms of seeing individuals giving up their inner strength and beliefs because in their
minds they could no longer deal with the mental torture, isolation, the materialistic
restrictions, etc.
These individuals gave up and broke themselves because they were missing the key
essentials to their inner consciousness that give them the power to survive isolation.
I have been asked over the years: “How have you been able to survive all this and still be
mentally intact?” My answers are very simple:
1) I know who I am and where I am going.
2) I don’t let time do me, I do the time.
3) My mind and thinking are far beyond prison walls.
Only my body is being held captive. To put it more plainly, 95% of time daily is spent
writing and thinking outside of prison.
Now I would like to share with those who are new to this or/and those who have not yet
developed the inner consciousness that give them the power to survive — here are my
pointers on how to survive and use isolation to your advantage:
1) Regrowth — begin with studying your history, culture and yourself.
2) Make a real commitment to your inner consciousness.
3) Think of ways you can make positive contributions to our peoples in the
4) Write letters with your ideas and input to unify yourselves with the young and
old. Send your letters to family members, friends, churches, publications,
progressive newspapers, radio deejays, artists, college students on campus,
lawyers, etc., etc. Keep writing, don’t stop. You may not get responses from every
one you write to, but you will get some. In them some may be referrals to our
peoples, or they may like your ideas and be willing to help you get it going.

Constantly writing these letters re-inforces your inner consciousness to solidify your
internal change beyond mere words. Your focus is no longer your immediate isolation,
therefore your thinking is not controlled.
Knowing you are from your history and culture gives you self pride and respect. But you
must take this to another level in reaching to the outside with a positive mission.
This is the power to survive these hell holes, because your ability to know who you are as
a people and your ability in thinking outside the walls take away these barbarians’ control
over your existence and your mind.
Like I said, many of these individuals I have seen give up or/and break themselves knew
their history and were very politically conscious and had many applicable valid ideas to
revitalize our communities. Their biggest problems was they never took the conversation
and ideas outside of the isolated areas. They made absolutely no attempt to make contact
with the outside. Soon they became bored with hearing only themselves, and those
around them began to view them as good conversationalists with no actions behind their
words. Their thinking stayed contained within the isolated walls and soon isolation
consumed them.
The pointers I have shared with those reading this document have worked for me well,
have kept me focused and, most importantly, they have kept me real and above prison.
Paul Redd

Focus on Surviving! Not Dying!
Yes! Some prison officials are in prisons, doing some very wrong things to people. But
we must not! respond with actions! that will open avenues for these same prison officials,
to have justified reasons to escalate their wrongs directed at us, to a level of critical
wrong doine, and fatal wrong doing. That’s what they want to do. Therefore, they are
constantly! applying constant effort! to create Attica type situations. So they can kill
people on a massive level. And say, it was done in response to the wrongs of the people.
Is a means of survival, it don’t mean your scared.
Should be our main focus.
Some of us are done very bad here. Very, very, bad. But focus on surviving these wrongs.
By means of your Intelligence, discipline, and your diplomacy. This is not the 50’s, it is
not the 60’s, the 70’s, nor the 80’s. We are almost at the thousands. We are within the age
of diplomacy and litigation. Therefore! we are obligated to our efforts! to survive. It’s
not being a coward! It’s not living in fear! It’s survival.

We have to accept things we don’t like. Even certain amounts of disrespect will have to
be tolerated. Each individual has to judge for themselves, what is acceptable. And what is
not! acceptable. Let your wisdom, your discipline and your intelligence, guide your
actions and responds. Not! your anger, your hostility, or your dislikeful feelings, for the
wrong things they do to you.
Many of us are being done wrong. Some! are being done worst! Than others. But always
focus on your main objective. And your main objective whenever in situations as this
should be survival! For those that cannot get out. Your victory can be survival today!
With hopes of getting to better prison environments tomorrow. Or surviving this moment
of adversity, to experience another moment of happiness. Happiness comes and goes
with moments, not decades. But never give up! my precious love ones, never ever give
up! And hurl yourselves into the flames. Just because the going gets tough. Stand tall!
And focus on surviving! Not dying.
P.S. Recently I’ve just completed 16-straight years of being in S.H.U. (On August 8,
1997, Mr. Swon went to the main population.)
James H. Swon

Things a SHU Prisoner Should Know
The purpose of the California Department of “Corrections” SHU program is to reduce
prisoners to a state of submission essential for their ideological conversion. That failing,
the next objective is to reduce them to a state of psychological incompetence sufficient to
neutralize them as efficient, self-directing antagonists. That failing, the only alternative is
to destroy them, preferably by making them desperate enough to destroy themselves.
Recovery from the SHU experience —
In a situation removed from the reinforcing pressures of the SHU program, the exdetainees should be encouraged to think for themselves, so that they are once again in
charge of their own volition and their own decision-making.
The primary purpose of the SHU program is mentacide - which can be defined as
consisting of any organized system of psychological intervention in which the perpetrator
injects his own thoughts and words into the minds and mouths of the victims. By
assaulting ego strengths, culture shock is deliberately created, with isolation, alienation,
and intimidation, and the victim becomes increasingly vulnerable to the implantation of
ideas or the suggestion of behavior that would ordinarily be rejected as unacceptable or
Mentacide consists of four major components:
1. Behavior control

2. Thought control
3. Emotional control
4. Information control
Prisoners who survive the SHU program should be told first that s/he was, is, in a trap —
a situation where s/he was psychologically disabled and couldn’t get out. Second s/he
should be shown s/he didn’t originally choose to enter a trap. Third, it should be pointed
out that other prisoners were in similar traps. Fourth, tell the prisoners that it is possible
to get out of the trap through restoring their will power and sense of self.
It is a fact that mentacide renders its victims virtually unresponsible for “their” actions or
beliefs. The process whereby the victim is “psychologically incarcerated” in the
oppressive SHU system is a subtle, but powerful force over which the victim/prisoner has
little or no control, and therefore the victims need not feel either guilt or shame because
of abnormal experiences, thus resulting in abnormal behavior.
Victims of the SHU program would need to relearn how to relate to others, restore a
positive self-concept and self-esteem, how to think and make healthy decisions. Prisoners
who have suffered from the SHU should be told that the strength to move obstacles
begins in our minds.
Troy Thomas

As for doing time in the Control Unit, my suggestions are to establish and maintain
contact with activists out there; use the time productively, by studying law, theology;
reading; exercising and working to improve your mind and body.
Maintaining outside contacts is very important - without such contacts, the prisoncrats
will abuse prisoners, knowing they don’t have anyone to answer to. Unity is also
important since prisoners are often pitted against others, by design. It’s a bad
environment, both mentally and physically, so you need to set a program for yourself to
try and maintain any form of sanity. Long term isolation causes Post-traumatic Stress
Disorder (PTSD) as well, so those in contact with prisoners should always work to keep
them in touch with reality. I know for years I was in the Us v. Them mode, where it was
the feeling you’re at war, which in reality you are, since the whole purpose of the control
unit is to break your spirit - but you have to keep a semblance of future goals in mind too,
or you can self-destruct. It’s important for everyone out there to send as much literature
as possible, and try to establish one-on-one contact with those in the control units.
Outside support should be a priority, as well as an emergency response network for
John W. Perotti

A Revolutionary Statement on Survival
I was asked by a friend, what is the difference for someone who maintains strength and
others who often cave in?
My response was simple: “I use history as my guide.” Afrikans have a “historical
obligation” and duty to carry on the legacy and struggle of our ancestors. The terms upon
which we exist here have always been that of a slave in service of the master.
The entire fabric of Amerikan society is riddled with racism and enforced via its
institutions which ensure that Afrikans/Blacks will not succeed or be given an
opportunity to carve out a meaningful existence or make an honest living by which to
support one’s family unless one is willing to part with his/her cultural identity and
To be revolutionary calls for the ability to practice revolution as a religion - meaning you
must study it to understand its principles, just as you would your Bible or Koran, etc. You
must dig deep down within yourself and remove any impurities instilled by a diseased
society. Just as you would when asking God to forgive your sins, one must be equally
committed to destroying within oneself all the vestiges of that society which he/she
desires to change. This means eliminating the values of the ruling class of that society
and the petty aspirations of wanting to be like that class. If an individual was a liar and a
cheat prior to embracing the revolutionary ideal, then a deep critical self-examination
would be in order so as to purge all vestiges of that lie and cheat. Because to be
revolutionary is to be as good as your word! This process does not and cannot occur over
night. Thus before any real transformation can occur, the struggle must be waged and
won with oneself!
Control units exist with their sole purpose being to crush the revolutionary spirit
embodied within certain prisoners of consciousness aimed at crushing their resistance to
fascist control and inevitably making them a tool of reaction for the state. The ideas of
the state are embodied within the functions of the prison regime. The state is able to
continue executing its political agenda through the prison regime by convincing the
public through its vast propaganda network (the media) and intrigue, that control units are
designed to preclude the consolidated functioning of some of the most violent prison
gangs, with little public resistance to this overt display of fascism. The state is allowed
full latitude in exercising its authority in crushing political dissent.
Sure these units contain prisoners who are anything but revolutionary or politically
conscious, but then again how else is the state to accomplish its objectives without
reactionary tools to fuel its motor? Here in California the political prisoner/prisoner-ofwar class exists alongside perhaps the largest reactionary prisoner class in the nation who
willingly offers itself as tools for the state — aiding it in its fascist political objective of
discouraging political dissent and wholesale murder under the guise of “rival gang”
warfare fighting to survive to control the prison.
To survive a control unit, one must have grasped the understanding that struggle is a lifelong commitment, that it embodies all kinds of consequences none of which should deter
one from continuing on. One must have grasped the principles of the revolutionary and

be willing to die for those principles, — principles that are not swayed by the promise of
some petty prison privilege or the assurance of leniency because the cave-in or surrender
will not halt the fascist machine from moving forward with its objectives of total
authoritarian rule.
Professor W.E.B. DuBois recognized this when he wrote nearly 45 years ago. He said
that Amerika would eventually and inevitably come to a basic decision — either it would
move toward worker self-management, anti-racism and a new democratic state apparatus,
or it would lapse into authoritarian, racial barbarism and militarization of the work force
and a descent into military fascism.
Comrade George echoed this powerful sentiment when he issued the call for us to:
Settle your quarrels. Come together. Understand the reality of our situation.
Understand that fascism is already here, that people are already dying who could
be saved, that generations more will die or live poor butchered half-lives as we do
now if you fail to act.
Amerika has proven consistently that it is an enemy of the Afrikans, who mobilizes as we
speak to deliver her final blow of death, destruction and total fascist rule. Control units
are but a consequence of those who resist us, to deter those who dare to think about it.
Therefore, using history as your guide, you will find the strength is already there.
Sondai Kamdibe

Mapping Out Survival
Survival implies discipline which is the habit of instant and automatic obedience to one’s
will. It is the human basis or response on which effective control and survival rests. Good
plans minus discipline equals failure. And failure in executing plans destroys survival. In
understanding strategies to be used for survival, one must survey his/her situation and
determine what has been done or what has not, and what should be done.
Observation: Little that is worthwhile is accomplished without discipline. Discipline is a
learned process, which we must have for survival. There must be something to drive us to
move beyond the limiting expectations of loser, that something is motivation. Many men,
women, P.P./P.O.W.’s have many worries while in lock down (control units) which
causes much stress. Sometimes this stress leads to suicide, drug addiction, and actively
fights against discipline. Therefore it is important that those of us locked down in control
units discipline ourselves for survival.
Health: Mental and physical health are key factors in survival. Study is very important in
survival. We must read books, newspapers, magazines, etc. “Information is Power!”
Communicate regularly with family, friends, comrades, organizations in society as often
as possible.

Exercise at least four times a week: push ups, jumping jacks, squats, toe touches, dips,
knees to the chest, arm rotations, sit ups, etc. the numbers of how many to do in a set, and
how many sets is up to you. (45) minutes of constant working is good.
Stretching before you exercise is very important. Yoga is the best way to stretch.
Breathing: Deep breathing three or four times a day is rejuvenating.
Walking and Running: if space is available, or running in place for (30) minutes is good.
Self Defense: learning some form of self defense, boxing, karate, judo, etc. are most
important to protect oneself.
Diet: Vegetarian diets are very important for survival in control units (lock downs),
because of the lack of properly cooked foods. Strokes, peptic ulcers, diabetes,
hypertension, salmonellosis, stomach cancer, colon cancer, kidney disease, hemorrhoids;
are all illnesses that can be produced from a lack of proper dieting. Remember, medical
care isn’t worthwhile depending on in control units (lock down). A question was once
asked: “What do the prisoncrats care about a few sick prisoners?”
Daily Schedule:
5:00 AM

Wake up and wash up






Wash up/read



12:00 PM

Wash clothes, cell, etc


Read/study/write, etc.


Hold class on unit on politics, history, economics, or general discussion
on legal endeavors.




Back to reading, writing, studying, etc.

Times of turning in for the night may differ. Survival depends on one to remove bad
habits from one’s activities. Seek truth and base one’s life on it. Seek life giving and
saving ideas. Work for “Success”. Be productive, creative, and learn craft to keep the
mind and body active.
Be security minded, avoid imbalances, which result from the taking away of some
component necessary to mental stability. In order to restore from imbalance, the missing
component must be restored or compensated for. Our brains were created to think right.
Falsehood, which is untruth, injustice, or deception produces chemical imbalance in the
brain. The proof that humanity is unbalanced is the absence of the three essentials of
balance: Freedom, Justice, and Equality. This is due to the oppression and mistreatment
of people by one another. But we are made to achieve balance.

Our survival strategy should be like a map. A plan from getting from where we are to
where we want to go. Planning strategy is like planning a trip. Our tactics should be the
specific things that we must do for survival, to help us get there. Petitions, pressure
campaigns, etc. Progress reports, quality reports, assignments, and progress schedules are
important for survival in monitoring oneself.
In dealing with the prisoncrats, remember they aren’t here to make sure we are
comfortable, so the less we deal with them the better off we are; to alleviate any
hardships. Accept the worst, improve on the worst.
1) How to break the worry habit: “Keep busy”.
2) Ways to cultivate a mental attitude, leading to peace and happiness. “Fill your
mind with thought of peace courage, health and hope. Always keep aware of
things around you”.
3) To keep from worrying about criticism: remember unjust criticism is often a
disguised compliment.
4) Ways to prevent fatigue and worry, keeping spirits high. “Rest before you get
tired. When you face a problem, solve it, then and there, if you have the facts
necessary to make a decision”.
5) Good thoughts lead to wise actions.
Survival is the most important thing for every creature on the planet earth. Our survival in
Control Units (lock down) on Administrative Custody is no different. Control Units were
designed to destroy our survival instincts. We must not let this evil succeed. “Free all
Political Prisoners; Prisoners of War; fight to stop the Injustice, and Shut them Down
(Control Units)!”
LuQman Abdullah Hayes,

To keep one’s self mentally and physically healthy through a period of long-term
isolation has been a challenge for myself as I know it has for others. Though I’m one of
those rare persons who has beaten the million to one odds (at least to date) by doing one
simple thing ... keeping thyself extremely active, occupying the loads of free time with a
daily crammed schedule. It all starts with a hour long exercise regiment which includes
doing push-ups, jumping jacks, running in place, crunches, pull ups, chin ups, and
stretching different muscle groups, yet the most unique way I have discovered to keep the
upper body in shape, is by taking a pillow case and filling it with heavy books and/or tons
of personal and legal documents (you know the kind which are stuffed in clasp
envelopes) and then using the open end of the pillow case as a handle to lift the one-half
to three-fourth filled bag four different ways. (Lifting with each arm, then both arms in
the front of the body and behind, right above the shoulder blades). In all exercise is very
important in a forced sedentary lifestyle, that to linger in a bunk all day long only results

in health problems such as irregular heartbeats, hypertension, depressed immune system
and atrophy of muscles which even I have been effected by after six years of isolation.
The next thing I do is write. What I mean by this is drafting up articles/essays and now
and then a poem mostly for the small press to counter-attack the hysteria dished-out
against the prisoner class. This includes telling about the conditions within America’s
dungeon and the impracticalities of the criminal (in)justice system. This activity alone
takes up the majority of my time and has had one positive effect and that’s bringing the
public’s attention to the repressive conditions here at the Iowa state “warehouse” and the
reality of the American prison system as a whole. In fact I encourage those similarly
situated to pick up those ink pens or pencils, which ever is allowed and make a habit of
communicating your experiences either as simply as keeping a journal which I do on a
daily basis or sending letters to the editors of the local newspaper to criticize an article or
opinion you may have read which may have not been true or was one of those “let’s get
tougher on the criminal” opinions, that needs a person from the inside to rebut. Just keep
in mind occasionally the editor will print your letter which is reason enough for taking up
such activities. Other things I do to keep busy include helping others with their legal
cases (civil and criminal), filing grievances every time I see a grievable issue no matter if
it’s personal or if it involves another prisoner, keeping log books/charts of all mail,
memos (kites) and grievances, this helps in storing in order the paper work which I do not
discard in hopes of using it as evidence against my keepers at a latter date. And most
importantly Read! Especially books which further one’s knowledge. I am one who
discourages those that fill one’s time on “junk novels” and encourage subjects like
politics, science, poetry, how to books and reference publications. Personally I just love
to soak my brain into anything dealing with technology and its related issues. Now
everyone may not want to follow a schedule like mine, but that’s what the imagination is
for. Just use whatever know-how you may have obtained from past experiences and
education then shape it into something productive. By this you will stonewall the
boredom devil, hopefully conserve sanity and make your isolation a little more bearable.
In all, if you want to survive that long-term isolation, the mind and body needs to
continually be fully active.
D.A Sheldon

A Practical Guide from an Indiana SHU
Priority List
1) Secure Outside Contacts
2) Reconnaissance
3) Physical Maintenance
4) Mental Maintenance
5) Time Management

Basically the above list represents areas that a Control Unit prisoner should emphasize to
be equipped with the necessary coping skills for survival. They do not represent the
foundation of any monolithic concept, nor are they set in stone. Others should
particularize. What they do represent is systematic referencing of ideals that have been
ingrained in me through diligent study of revolutionary science, human psychology,
sociology and years of uncut prison struggle:
Secure Outside Contacts
My suggestion to secure outside contacts originates from an overstanding that prison in
and of itself is designed to isolate prisoners from society. Thus the concept of Control
Units takes this reality to another level. Isolation from society and fellow prisoners is
a basic component in the prisoncrats’ attempt to weaken the resolve of those that have
been tagged “unmanageable”.
Once inside a Control Unit, if not before, one should immediately try to cement familial
contacts as the months and years of isolation coupled with lack of visit and phone calls
weaken, if not destroy, fragile families. Hearing from loved ones and sharing with them
the many-sided assaults on their humanity helps to keep one focused. Implicit in this
should be the overstanding that Control Unit Prisoners’ priority should be to preserve
family contact and relations as opposed to forcing new ideological concepts on them. If
one is politically conscious and aware, then they should be clear on the level of
backwardness or assimilationist tendencies found in most folks. Plant your seeds of
growth, but be aware that they need as much nurturing as do we, if not more.
In addition to familial contact, it should be a priority of Control Unit prisoners to reach
out to progressive groups, associations, etc. This would be to secure open lines of
communication, printed literature, and a balanced historical foundation of Control Units
and their use. I think that viewing the assignment to a Control Unit from a collective
sense enables a prisoner to free himself or begin the process of freeing himself from
individualism. Which hopefully will foster an overstanding for the need to collectively
organize one’s efforts. Also this securing of dialogue, papers, etc., opens one’s eyes to
how various others have dealt with and continue to deal with the oppression of 21st
century penological science. In conclusion, exchanging and sharing information on the
various units enables the struggle to proceed with clarity.
As defined by Webster’s dictionary the term Reconnaissance is “an observation of the
territory of the enemy.” I incorporate this as a priority for Control Unit prisoners in that
it’s a must for us to learn our environment as quickly as possible in order to negate as
much unnecessary static as possible. Inherent in learning one’s environment is the task of
concealing one’s self to a certain degree. One thing that I have found is that Control Units
are also used to isolate psychotic prisoners, safe keepers (disguised as disciplinary
problems), snitches, etc. And because of this I recommend that upon entry CadreRevolutionaries, Anti-Authoritarians, Anarchists, etc. exercise secure communication and
act as though anyone that you don’t know or have been out of contact with for any length
of time as potential threats, suspects, or what have you.

Because of the realization that the dialectical process of analyzation shows us that
everything is in a constant state of change, it is our duty to incorporate that fact into how
we approach being thrown into a Control Unit. The behavioral/psychological
implications of these units exposes itself in the personalization and indivdualistic
attitudes of many here. This is not limited to the obviously psychotic - a lot of once standup prisoners wilt under the strain of isolation and other sensory deprivations. So do your
homework, before you initiate, embrace or lend your reputation and efforts to someone or
Briefly let me say that it’s important to secure any and all rules, policies, and other
materials governing the unit. Ascertain the chain of command and mentally note as much
as possible about the habits of the staff, their attitudes and anything else that can give you
an edge in staying prepared. Once you have learned the set, identified fellow cadre, you
need to tie into or formulate means of communication for obvious reasons.
Physical Maintenance
Because of the long hours of confinement to the cells, everyone should discipline
themselves to some type of vigorous workout/exercise routine on a regular basis. The
prevailing attitude is to stay in shape or “combat ready,” which is sometthing we can’t
ignore. But the reality is that we are only able to do so much to combat the onslaught
of five or six heavily padded guards in possession of various tools of incapacitarion. So I
see the discipline of exercise as a health necessity first and foremost. Regular exercise
keeps the muscles toned, the cardiovascular system strong and helps to rid our bodies of
“toxins and other impurities” that invade our bodies through food, water, and air-borne
particles. Not being a physical health doctor, I cannot begin to address the many ways
that one can maintain a high level of strength, endurance, and general well-being. But
most of us are familiar with exercise routines that meet the needs of the areas spoken
about. I suggest, though, that one should get some literature dealing specifically with
stretching, calisthenics and how to meditate, as it, too, is a physical function.
Mental Maintenance
This area is beyond a doubt the most prevalent issue for concern, but I’m going to keep
my thoughts on it simple and straight forward. First thing for me was making adjustment
to the level of barbarity a lot of prisoners had succumbed to — throwing feces/urine,
constantly verbally attacking each other and simply showing no restraint. So to stay
mentally healthy 1 had to be realistic about what I could contribute to the immediate unit,
in terms of combating the administration and the lack of collective solidarity.
Secondly, I immediately found out that the principled position and righteous behavior of
a brother did not necessarily mean that I was immune to the personal verbal attacks,
accusations of superiority, etc. Which let me know that just because the state labels us all
as one, the philosophical, ethnic differences etc. are so extreme that identifying a primary
enemy was not a given. So I suggest that one be particular about approaching arguments
as peacemakers, that one really be about holding onto his decency because some Control
Units are ripe with Psycho Babble day in and day out. So you can’t realistically expect to
influence it very much, and you stand the chance of getting “caught up,” as they say, if
you prioritize every contradiction.

It’s important to learn the art of meditation, as I find that maintaining focus and
concentration is solidified through meditation. I have also concluded that my study has
got to be tempered with some leisure reading. It enables one to be vulnerable emotionally
without jeopardizing his objective view of the struggle inside and outside. Some
prisoners utilize the behavioral psychologists to deal with stress, under the guise of Anger
Control. And where I choose not to incorporate myself in the state’s offering, I don’t
condemn those that seek out information from them. Some people simply need somebody
they can talk to. I can only say that when you don’t respond as they wish, you may
become a candidate for a psychotropic drug!
Time Management
A lot of prisoners operate on the concept of “passing time.” This can be harmful to
Control Unit prisoners. I say this because the concept itself is synonymous with bull
shitting, and that isn’t healthy for those of us confined for years on end in Control Units
or otherwise. So I have concluded that it’s important for us to formulate some form of
“time management.” All one has to do is sit down with pen and paper and write out his
daily activities for three days or so. If the individual is not involved in meaningful study,
exercise, dialogue, etc., he quickly sees that his day is wasted aimlessly.
So one should list the things they are interested in doing, chart them according to time of
day and length and institute this daily. Being mindful of when you’re most alert for study,
and appropriate times for exercise, meditation, etc. This may sound like something out of
left field for some, or those that have never organized their lives or activities. But in such
a situation as Control Units, it’s important to maintain control over our own selves as
much as possible. Developing discipline is one thing, keeping it is another!
Anane Baye Camara

The Prison-Cell Workout
I’m an inmate a the Pelican Bay State Prison in Crescent City,
California. Pelican Bay is considered the toughest, most secure prison in the United
States. Prisoners in the Security Housing Unit here are so isolated from the outside world
that we sometimes go years without seeing fresh earth, plant life or unfiltered sunlight.
Confined to our cells for most of the time, we’re allowed to exercise alone in a 10-by-20foot “dog run” for 1 1/2 hours per day. We have no weights, no chin-up bars, no
basketball courts — only a concrete floor and walls.
We do all the usual exercises to keep- in shape - push-ups, handstand push-ups,
abdominal work — but by far the most popular exercise at
Pelican Bay is the burpee routine. It works your chest, arms, front deltoids, thighs and abs
while giving you a grueling cardiovascular workout.
There are all kinds of ways to do this exercise, but I’ll describe the basic six-count
burpee. To start, stand straight with your hands at your sides, your toes pointing forward
and your feet three to six inches apart. Now:

1. Squat down and place both hands on the floor.
2. Kick both feet out behind you, so you’re in a push-up position.
3. Go down until your chest touches the floor.
4. Push back up.
5. Pull both feet back under your body.
6. Return to the standing position, using only your legs.
Start with a “20 down” routine. Do a set of 20 reps, rest 30 seconds, then do a set of 19,
rest, then a set of 18 and so on until you work you way down to zero. You’ll do a total of
210 burpees, which means 210 push-ups and 210 squat-thrusts combined. If you do a 30down, you’ll be doing 465 burpees; tack on a set of 35 at the beginning and you’ll give
yourself an even 500.
Once you’ve mastered that routine, you’re ready for a real test of will: the straight-set
routine. Try for 150 to 200 to start, then add 10 reps every week. (The “burpee monsters”
at Pelican Bay do straight sets of 1,000 reps, at a pace of 100 every six minutes.) For an
even better workout, follow your straight set with two sets of wide grip push-ups,
followed by two-sets of close-grip push-ups, followed by a five-minute ab routine.
Burpees are a good exercise choice any time you’re in an enclosed area for an extended
period of time - a hotel room, your office. And if you’re ever sent to a maximum-security
prison - at least you’ll know how to keep in shape.
Michael Shepherd
from Men s Fitness

T’ai Chi Ch’uan
This article is to let you know the benefits you can receive from the regular practice of
T’ai Chi Ch’uan. T’ai Chi is a form of martial art that emphasizes achieving balance
within yourself through slow movements and deep breathing. It originated in China and is
referred to at times as “moving meditation.” If you practice it regularly you will notice an
increase in energy to face the day, you will be calmer, able to handle situations that
would usually end in conflicts or arguments. T’ai Chi can be used for self defense and is
designed to deal with an opponent in the least violent way.
The health benefits of T’ai Chi have been proven in tests conducted by medical experts. It
has reduced blood pressure, aided people with asthma and heart trouble. It can be
practiced by young, old, weak and strong.
Since I have been practicing T'ai Chi each day, I have overcome depression. My outlook
on life has changed from a negative one to a positive one, and that is saying something
because of my long exposure to the prison system. The best thing about T'ai Chi is that
with as little as 10-25 minutes each morning you can meet the day with a steady head,
heart and body. You will benefit physically, spiritually, emotionally and mentally. This

isn't any snake oil salesman's 'come on.' IT WORKS, but you only get out of it what you
put into it. T'ai Chi works for me; I know it can work for you.
For information on learning about T'ai Chi Ch'uan you can write Budo Books & Videos,
PO Box 4727, Overland Park, KS 66204.
Ideal books for beginners are: T'ai Chi for Beginners, $8.00; Corpus of Taiji Breathing
Exercise (Qigong) by Ed Ying Lam, $6.00; T'ai Chi Ultimate by Lun, $11.00; T'ai Chi
Ch'uan for Health by Lee Ying-Arng, $17.00.

Controlling the Control Unit
To me the over-riding thing of importance in surviving my various stints in control units
was to refuse to relinquish control! By that I mean: keeping always in mind the purpose
of the control unit — i.e., remembering what the state was trying to accomplish by
putting me there, and then using my own powers of understanding to resist their
plan. Among other things, this meant:
• Making a schedule for my days, instead of allowing the cops to determine my days.
• Having several different schedules, and alternating them, to avoid having the days all
melt into sameness, and to keep track of what day and date it was, etc.
• Using exterior signals, such as changes in light, shift changes, regular noises from
outside my cell, to keep track of time. The first few weeks I'd note a sound or other
objective occurrence, then yell for the cops to find out what time it was, etc.
• Developing several different forms of exercise for different days and conditions. One
technique of control used in every unit I've been in is withholding or postponing rec time.
Since exercise was a very important way I controlled my anger so that I didn't become
upset or stressed, it was crucial for me to develop ways to avoid letting this necessity for
exercise become one more tool for them to use against me. I learned yoga and did
isometric weight-training in my cell, and I ran on the occasions I was able to go out to the
rec yards.
• Developed some creative activity that allowed me to admire my own human creativity
— i.e., draw, write, make things from what is available, etc. Reminding myself that my
place in the universe was as a sentient, loving, creative human being, not a caged animal,

was helpful. (This is why so many prisoners turn out incredible drawings in ballpoint
• Learn something — undertake to study something and use the mind so I left each unit
having grown rather than been diminished by the experience.
• Write letters - get pen pals if needed; some active communication with the outside.
• For me, as a political creature, it was essential to get a subscription to a major
newspaper (I then managed to share it by smuggling it to another prisoner in the unit). I
was fortunate to have friends who chipped in to get me the paper. I wonder if the
Campaign to Stop Control Units could somehow get money or get people to get subs to
weekly news magazines — Time or Newsweek, or a daily or weekly decent newspaper
— for people in control units? In women's prisons and most control units, no news media
are provided.
• I fought for every shred of what I was supposed to have a "right" to, based in the Code
of Federal Reggs, which governs the BOP. Bu it's hard not to get full of rage and
frustration while doing this, so once in a while I would write a furious letter to the warden
or someone else, saying everything I wanted and then tear it up. Therapeutic, to a point.
Warden Burkhardt of Alderson responded to my BP-9 (fed prison grievance form)
protesting my isolation - he said I was being held in solitary because of my “associations
and beliefs.” Knowing what your enemy’s goals are helps you a lot in resisting giving
ground. In my case, on days when 1 felt (and was) particularly abused and mistreated, I
could always find hope and strength in feeling it was an honor to be held in conditions of
control - in the way Chairman Mao meant it in that old quote we used to love so much
about it being a good thing to be hated by the enemy.
Finally, one thing about control units is that, since their goal is to dehumanize, to destroy
one’s personality, each individual kind of needs to design her/his own program for
survival, based in her/his identity and sense of what makes each of us human. How one
person expresses and controls rage is not necessarily right for another - for example, for
some people, keep busy is important; for others, maybe stillness and inward thought is
important. What resources - internal and external - each prisoner has available make a big
difference, too. (One reason why activist groups are so important!)
Finally, really, I do believe that every one who has spent time in prison, double for
control units, suffers physical if not also mental damage. Having this recognized - say, by
the international anti-torture forces — helps. I think it was Stuart Grassian who observed
that the women in the LexHSU developed illnesses as a result of the unit. When I read
that, it helped me understand the damage to my own health that resulted or was
exacerbated by the control unit time.

P.S. Have you been able to see the comet? It’s gorgeous! Every morning I get up at 5 to
go to a window in our unit from which I can see it; now in the evening we can see it
before we’re locked in. Every time I look at it I think of all those in the control units who
are robbed of this incredible experience.
Laura Whitehom

Goals & Methods of Control Units - Eight Survival Strategies
Introduction: Security Housing Units or Control Units are generally based on the
“Stammhein Model” perfected by West Germany during the early 1970’s. The purpose
was unabashedly political, as is demonstrated in the U.S. Bureau of Prisons official
criteria for incarceration: “(A) prisoner’s past or present affiliation, association or
membership in an organization which attempts to disrupt or overthrow the government of
the U.S. or whose published ideology includes advocating law violations in order to free
The object was to invoke in prisoners a sense of being totally at the mercy of and
dependent upon their keepers. In the polite language of the John Howard Association:
“Through a year or more of sensory and psychological deprivation, prisoners are stripped
of their individual identities in order that compliant behavior patterns can be implanted, a
process of mortification and depersonalization.”
The techniques involved have been described by Amnesty International in the chart given
below. As early as 1962, Dr. Edgar Schein described the methodology at issue rather
more straight-forwardly in an address to all federal maximum security prison wardens in
Washington D.C.: “In order to produce marked changes in behavior, it is necessary to
weaken, undermine, or remove supports for old attitudes. I would like you to think of
brainwashing not in terms of ... ethics and morals, but in terms of the deliberate changing
of human behavior by a group of men who have relatively complete control over the
environment in which the captives live ... [These changes can be induced by] isolation,
sensory deprivation, segregation of leaders, spying, tricking men into signing written
statements which are then shown to others, placing individuals whose will power has
been severely weakened into a living situation with others more advanced in thought
reform, character invalidation, humiliation, sleeplessness, rewarding subservience, and

Biderman’s Chart on Penal Coercion
(Source: Amnesty International Report on Torture, 1983)
General Method Effect (Purposes)
1. Isolation
Deprive victims of all social
Complete solitary confinement,
supports, of his ability to resist.
complete isolation, semiDevelops an intense concern
isolation, group isolation
with self. Makes victim
dependent upon interrogator.
2.Monopolization Fixes attention upon immediate
of perception
predicament; fosters
introspection. Eliminates stimuli
competing with those controlled
by captive. Frustrates all actions
not consistent with compliance.

Physical isolation, darkness or
bright light, barren environment,
restricted movement monotonous

3. Induced

Weakens mental and physical
ability to resist.

Semi-starvation, exposure,
exploitation of wounds, induced
illness, sleep deprivation,
prolonged constraint, prolonged
interrogation, forced writing,
over- exertion

4. Threats

Cultivates anxiety and despair.

Threats of death, threats of nonreturn, threats of endless

5. Occasional

Provides positive motivation for
compliance. Hinders adjustment
to deprivation.

Occasional favors, fluctuations of
attitudes, promises, rewards for
partial compliance, tantalizing.

6. Demonstrating

Suggests futility of resistance.

Confrontation, pretending
cooperation taken for granted,
demonstrating complete control
over victim’s fate.

7. Degradation

Makes cost of resistance appear
more damaging to self-esteem
than capitulation. Reduce
prisoners to “animal level”

Personal hygiene prevented.
Filthy, infested surroundings.
Demeaning punishment, insults
and taunts, denials of privacy.

8. Enforcing

Develops habit of compliance.

Forced writing, enforcement of
minute rules


This introduction has served as a diagnosis of the problem from an historical perspective
as well as analytical. It is important that our readers comprehend that “SHU Strategies
Toward Survival” are solutions and Ways and Means to counter this attack.
“SHU Survival Strategies”
1. Maintain as much communication with as many people in society as possible.
2. Seek to read as many different publications as possible on as many different subjects as
possible in order to have a consistent flow of information.
3. Create an environment of cooperation between yourself and the other prisoners around
you in order to develop community and “Unity of Purpose.”
4. Develop an exercise and study program which builds over time; that is, levels of
5. Communicate as little as possible with staff.
6. Attempt to politicize other prisoners and encourage collective problem solving.
7. Remember that during time in prison it is not where you are but who you are, because
time is time.
8. Seek to study your captors so as to avail yourself of any and all opportunities to disarm
I cannot hope these 8 strategies to be successful for all prisoners in all situations, but only
the test to survive the SHU will determine who is able to transcend the torture.
Walter Daily

At the Attica Remembrance event, September 6, 1997, Geronimo Ji Jaga told us: “I
survived because of the spirit there .... I survived because of the love there
Women’ s Building
San Francisco

Clear Sight
Hopefully the day will come that my freedom is finally returned. There’s so many things
I think I’ll be able to give back to the community from which I came. Pelican Bay, for all
the underhanded and cruel things that’s being done there, one good thing is I now
understand and see so many things, mainly life, very clearly.
Johnny Bames

Long Ago, But Not So Far Away
Ammon Hennacy was put in solitary. The year was 1918. He wrote about his
1. Warden Zerbst offered to let Hennacy out of solitary if he would snitch.
In about five minutes he returned, saying: “I forgot to ask you something,
Hennacy. I’ll leave you out tomorrow just the same.”
“What is on your mind?” I asked.
“Have you been sneaking letters out of this prison?” he asked in an angry tone.
“Sure,” I replied, smiling.
“Who is doing it for you?” he demanded.
“A friend of mine,” I answered.
“What is his name?” was the query.
“That is for you and your guards and stool pigeons to find out. I won’t tell you,
for I want to get some more letters out concerning the evil things that go on,” I
replied good naturedly.
He stormed around my cell, somewhat taken back by the fact that I had not lied or
given in.
“You’ll stay in here all your good time and get another year, you stubborn fool,”
he said as he left.
It was not for many years that I knew I had used the method of moral jiu jitsu as
advised by Ghandi. If you don’t give your enemy a hold he can’t throw you.
Never be on the defensive; always answer quickly and keep the enemy on the run.
He is used to trickery and is put off his guard by an honest and courageous
opponent whom he cannot scare or bribe...
(But) the world needs a Samson to pull down their whole structure of lies.
2. Hennacy hears the groans of the prisoner in the cell next to him.
This man is being tortured to the point of madness. Hennacy thinks of suicide,
How soon would I be strung to the bars? How long could a fellow stand such
As soon as it was dark I sharpened my spoon again and tried it gently on my
wrist. The skin seemed to be quite tough, but then I could press harder. If I cut my wrist
at midnight I could be dead by morning. I thought I ought to write a note to Selma and to
my mother and I couldn’t see to do it until morning. Well, I had waited that long, I could
wait a day longer.

3. Hennacy survives. He sings, reads, and thinks about love and purpose.
The sun shone brightly in my cell the next morning for the first time in weeks. I crouched
again by the door and saw Berkman’s bald head.
Tears came into my eyes and I felt ashamed of myself for my cowardly idea of suicide
Just because I had a few reverses. Here was Berkman who had passed through much
more than 1 would ever have to endure if I stayed two more years in solitary. How was
the world to know more about the continued torture of Popoff and others if I gave up?
The last two verses of the I.W.W. Prison Song now had a real meaning to me as I sang
them again. 1 was through with despair. I wanted to live to make the world better. Just
because more prisoners, and for all that, most people on the outside, did not understand
and know what solitary meant was all the more reason why 1 should be strong. I sang
“By all the graves of Labor s dead,
By Labor’s deathless/lag of red,
We make a solemn vow to you,
We ‘II keep the faith, we will be true.
For freedom laughs at prison bars,
Her voice reaches to the stars;
Proclaiming with the tempest’s breath
A cause beyond the reach of death. “
I had now read [the Bible] through four times and read the New Testament many times
and the Sermon on the Mount scores of times.
I had made up games with pages and chapters and names of characters in the Bible to
pass away the time. I had memorized certain chapters that I liked. As I read of Isaiah,
Ezekiel, Micah and others of the prophets and of Jesus, I could see that they had opposed
tyranny. I had also spent many days reviewing all of the historical knowledge that I could
remember and in trying to think through a philosophy of life. I had passed through the
idea of killing myself. This was an escape, not any solution to life. The remainder of my
two years in solitary must result in a clear-cut plan whereby I could go forth and be a
force in the world. I could not take any halfway measures ….
I had called loudly for the sword and mentally listed those whom I desired to kill when I
was free. Was this really the universal method which should be used? I would read the
Sermon on the Mount again. When a child I had been frightened by hell fire into
proclaiming a change of life. Now I spent months making a decision; there was no
sudden change. I had all the time in the world and no one could talk to me or influence
me. I was deciding this idea for myself. Gradually I came to gain a glimpse of what
Jesus meant when He said, “The Kingdom of God is Within You.” In my heart now after
six months I could love everybody in the world but the warden, but if I did not love him
then the Sermon on the Mount meant nothing at all. I really saw this and felt it in my
heart, but I was too stubborn to admit it in my mind. One day I was walking back and
forth in my cell when, in turning, my head hit the wall. Then the thought came to me:

“Here I am locked up in a cell. The warden was never locked up in any cell and he never
had a chance to know what Jesus meant. Neither did I until yesterday. So I must not
blame him. I must love him.” Now the whole thing was clear. The Kingdom of God must
be in everyone: in the deputy, the warden, in the rat and the pervert – and now I came to
know it — in myself. I read and reread the Sermon on the Mount: the fifth, sixth and
seventh chapter of Matthew thus became a living thing to me. I tried to take every
sentence and apply it to my present problems. The warden had said that he did not
understand political prisoners. He and the deputy, in plain words, did not know any
better; they had put on the false face of sternness and tyranny because this was the only
method which they knew. It was my job to teach them another method: that of goodwill
overcoming their evil intention, or rather habits. The opposite of the Sermon on the
Mount was what the whole world has been practicing in prisons and out of prison; and
hate piled on hate has brought hate and revenge. It was plain that this system did not
Ammon Hennacy

In Response to Ronald Epps
I am hoping you don’t mind my presumption in writing to you. Cathy Brennan took the
liberty of sharing your letter with me out of a deep concern for your well being. While
there is little any of us can do in terms of gaining your release from the isolation of the
supermax, perhaps we can assist in helping you endure and gain strength. I am going to
speak candidly - and from years of experience in counseling those in isolation units (via
the phone) and those who have returned to the streets. I claim no great victories because
it is true that the damage that can sometimes occur is severe. While no one escapes long
periods of isolation unscathed, some do come out healthier than others - and it is the
mental and physical health techniques of those people that I would like to share with you.
Your reaction to the hug of a fellow prisoner upon your last release was one I have seen
before. I have also reached out to hug someone as a welcome and felt them flinch from
the contact. And you are correct in your assessment that the entire purpose of isolation
units is to break human beings down, in essence to make them useless. There are also
other uses to supermax isolation, obviously political ones such as using it as a
management tool to keep prisoners (especially the young ones coming in such numbers)
from getting organized. From a Corrections point of view, it is also a way to maintain the
safety of personnel, and it is less expensive to run a supermax than a prison with general
population. As for the “public”, most folks don’t seem to care what Corrections does as
long as “criminals” are kept away from the streets. Although this is most certainly a form
of genocide, most people do not understand the political uses of prisons in that way.
Knowing this doesn’t help your situation any, but it is important for you to hold onto the
political nature of what is happening to you — and hundreds of thousands of others
across the country.
You write that one of the impacts of your social dislocation is that you have not sought
out or encouraged any contacts on the street — either family or friends. Reading that
reminded me of one person I know who has been in New Jersey State Prison’s
Management Control Unit for almost eleven years. While the purposes of a control unit
vs. a supermax are different, the conditions are often the same. Through a great sense of
self discipline, he has consistently reached out to people on the streets resulting in a
comparatively active “social” life via the mail and his occasional telephone calls. He,
along with the healthiest survivors I know, maintains a strict daily regimen including
hours of physical exercises, spending a specific portion of each day reading and studying
political and Afrocentric materials, and then another portion of the day writing to outside
people and publications. It has been my observation that those who remain the healthiest
are those who maintain and grow in their political understanding. The emphasis of their
daily existence is not what is happening in the prison, but rather what is happening on the
streets. It has been my privilege to work with some of the most intelligent political minds
via the mail and occasional telephone calls, and I have benefited enormously in my own
work as a result. The concept of the National Campaign to Stop Control Unit Prisons

came out of written dialogue with a number of prisoners living in sensory deprivation
units throughout the country.
It seems to me that those who retain the highest degree of their mental health also
maintain ties with family and friends, often receiving photographs, relevant newspaper
articles, news magazines, rap magazines, and so on. In other words, at least a portion of
their mental and physical health is as a result of their own self-discipline and selfeducation, and the rest is as a result of their remaining street- oriented. It is also very
necessary to battle the self-destructiveness that you describe in the commission of “acts
of desperation” in a quest for excitement. In a number of supermax prisons that I hear
from, people are describing “wars” consisting of flinging excrement at one another as a
form of stimulation, often resulting in letters of self- disgust and rage. It is possible
through inner conviction to turn anger into the will to survive. Many of the healthier
survivors that I have met also talk about coming to terms with the consequences of their
own behavior — that is, acknowledging self-destructive behavior in an effort to rid
oneself of it. They feel that self-destructive behavior is a show of weakness rather than
strength. It is also important that you balance the reality of surveillance with the extreme
paranoia that you describe. That paranoia can become permanently embedded. At the
very least, maintain your sense of control over your own behavior in an attempt to stay
sane inside the insanity in which you are forced to live.
While I don’t know who your support system consists of, it may be important for your
own health to begin to reach out to family, friends — and you may even want to attempt
making new friends. I am enclosing an article which came out some time ago called the
“T Bag factor”. In it they note that with long term hostages, those who survived the
experience best were those who were secure in the love of their friends and family. This
is an important clue for your own ability to retain your health and humanity. It seems to
me from your letter that you are well on your way to assessing the impact of supermax
and how to recover from the sensory deprivation. That assessment mechanism can be
enhanced and used on a daily basis. Whether in there or out here, assessing and balancing
oneself is a daily mental health task. You describe well the tendency to adjust and
conform to the mind-deadening conditions, and I am reminded of the words of Assata
Shakur’s grandmother during a prison visit. She advised Assata to NEVER get used to
prison. There is a great need for more people to comprehend the horrors of this latest
“invention” of the corrections industry, and your ability to assess yourself, along with
your writing ability, can contribute to this effort. There are a number of alternative
newspapers throughout the country which may accept your written commentary.
After having worked for over a decade with people in isolation, I understand clearly that
it is not possible to come out of such an experience undamaged. It is, however, possible
— and imperative —to minimize that damage by seeking out whatever forms of
stimulation which are available. I am sure that you understand that your concern about
becoming “mentally, physically and socially” unfit for general population and society in
general is an exact description of the purposes of supermax prisons. Minimizing the
impact of the horror of your living conditions will be difficult, but not impossible. Your
reaching out to Cathy is a sign of your own health and determination.

If you are willing, I would like permission to share your letter and my response in the
next national mailing of the Campaign to Stop Control Unit Prisons. It may be that we
can engender survival-oriented commentary.
Bonnie Kerness, MSW, LSW

Eight Constructive Activities for a Prisoner in Lock Down
1) Study an area of law or learning chat would be of use to yourself and others (a
language, art, history, etc.) Develop an expertise in an area that others do not have. Share
your learning and information with others.
2) Organize a family member or friend to do prison support work on the outside.
Persuade them of the importance of hooking up with a prison support group on the
outside that is working to turn the prison/industrial complex around. Tell your loved ones
not to mourn, but to organize.
3) Write about your feelings and emotions in a way that people on the outside can get a
sense of your humanity and concerns. Break down the image of prisoners as selfish,
brutal, uncaring monsters. Let others see the individual qualities of each person on the
inside, and their potential for change.
4) Keep a chronicle of the oppressive conditions in prison. Make the chronicle available
to others who can document the dehumanizing effect that cruelty has on people
incarcerated. Be specific, and help break through the cynical suggestion that prison is a
“country club” where people don’t have to work.
5) Engage in physical exercise to keep your body in shape. Refrain from physical
activities and conduct that is detrimental to your health.
6) Write newspapers, elected representatives and others to describe conditions in prison.
Don’t just complain about your own case, but educate the reader about how prisons
destroy people, rather than improving them.
7) Take every chance you get to create solidarity among prisoners. Break down the
issues that divide prisoners from one another - racism, homophobia, etc. Help prisoners to
respect each other’s differences and space. Don’t allow the prison administration to
divide you from other prisoners, through debriefing or bribery.
8) “Write poetry, short stories, novels, or any other kind of fiction that lets your mind free
itself from the boundaries of the 4 walls. Expand the walls through your imagination and
creativity.” —
(quote from Luis Talamantez)
Louis Hiken
Prison Law Project
National Lawyers-Guild

Psychological Destruction Due to Isolation
Leo Grieb interviews Dr. Stuart Grassian
L: Tell us your qualifications for addressing the issue of the psychological aspects of
solitary confinement.
S: I’m Dr. Stuart Grassian and I’m a psychiatrist in the Boston area on the faculty of the
Harvard Medical School. I’ve had the opportunity to evaluate a number of prisons,
specifically around the issue of solitary confinement. I’ve been involved in an number of
class action suits as an expert witness. One recent one concerned the Pelican Bay Facility
in California. There have been a number of cases where we have been able to get some.
relief for prisoners because of the Court’s findings of psychological harm caused by
conditions of solitary confinement.
L: What are the actual issues that the courts have decided on?
S: Basically, I think the courts have been impressed first, that there are a number of
people who end up being incarcerated in solitary confinement on the basis of having
committed infractions in the prison system basically because of difficulties they have
emotionally, difficulties with impulse control. There is a notion in the popular mind that
people who end up in solitary confinement are the most ruthless, kind of James Cagneys
of the prisons system. In fact what you often see there is exactly the antithesis: they are
very often the wretched of the earth, people who are mentally ill, illiterate, and
cognitively impaired, people with neurological difficulties, people who just really can’t
manage to contain their behavior at times. The prison system tends to respond to this by
punishment. Punishment tends to make their conditions worse and they tend to get into
these vicious cycles where they continue to commit this disruptive behavior and they
continue to go deeper and deeper into the belly of the prison system and get sicker and
sicker. The courts have recognized that solitary confinement itself can cause a very
specific kind of psychiatric syndrome, which, in its worst stages can lead to an agitated,
hallucinatory, confusional psychotic state often involving random violence and selfmutilation, suicidal behavior, a lot of real agitated, fearful and confusional kind of
L: Could it be said that, because of their lack of interaction with other human beings, that
these people are incapable of seeing patterns in other people’s behavior and are incapable
of understanding what appropriate behavior is in order to elicit the desired response?
S: My best understanding is this: First of all, the social isolation itself, is going to then to
lead to paranoia. That is one aspect of it. In fact, if you look at people who are, for
example, hearing impaired, you find that there is a higher incidence of paranoia among
that population of people simply because they can’t read social signals.
The person who is in solitary confinement is going to have an exceedingly difficult time
understanding what’s going on around him in terms of interpersonal interaction where
there really is none. But I think that the most important level is the lack of an adequate
level of perceptual stimulation. “What we know is that, in order to maintain an adequate
level of alertness; a person needs some kind of level of external stimulation coupled with

internal stimulation. If you deprive a person of either of these to a great extent, you’re
going to basically end up with an agitated, delirious, confusional, psychotic state. We’ve
seen that obviously with people who have been overdosed on sedative medication. And
we see it in conditions of perceptual or sensory deprivation, that people can really lose
their capacity to maintain an adequate sense of relationship to their surroundings. They
become confused, disoriented. There are a lot of perceptual disturbances, often
hallucinations, very frightened, fearful kinds of experiences, eventually leading to this
kind of agitated, impulse ridden, chaotic behavior. Very often, in fact, it is those kinds of
behavioral disturbances which then lead tto further punishment, further time in solitary.
So once you get into this vicious cycle, you can’t get out.
L: Let’s assume for a moment that we have an individual who is dangerous to himself, to
others as well. What would you propose then as an alternative to solitary confinement.
S: Well, first of all, you have to recognize that a lot of people who are really the most
dangerous are people whose behavior is pretty calculating. These are not the kinds of
individuals who generally end up in solitary confinement. They are smart enough and
calculating enough to know when they are going to lose and they don’t commit the kinds
of infractions which cause them to end up in solitary confinement in these isolation
settings generally. The people who do end up in those settings are often those whose
dangerousness is the result of impulsive, chaotic types of behavior. These individuals,
commonly, are those who have some type of psychiatric disturbance, whether it is a form
of attention deficit disorder or some type of mood instability, affective instability which
can respond to mood stabilizing medications. Many of these individuals have some subtle
evidence of neurological dysfunction, whether it is manifested by seizure disorder or
other forms of neurological illness. A number o those people actually respond very nicely
to the anti-convulsant/mood stabilizing medication like tegratol, depracode.
There is really a large variety of psychiatric treatments which may be useful for this subpopulation of people. The first thing you have to recognize is that what you are dealing
with is a clinical problem that needs to be treated, rather than a problem which needs to
be punished. If you look at it as a problem that’s going to be responded to with
punishment, you’re basically going to make it worse. And that’s generally what happens.
Now, in the prison setting, no matter how out of control you ma people, and the prison
setting makes some prisoners incredibly out of control, if you put them in a tight enough
cage, they are not going to hurt anyone. The problem is sooner or later they are going to
get back into your community. And it’s kind of like kicking and beating a dog and
keeping it in a cage until it gets as crazy and vicious and wild as it can possibly get and
then one day you take it out into the middle of the streets of San Francisco or Boston and
you open the cage and you run away. That’s no favor to the community.
L: Now you’ve addressed the lack of social interaction. What about the issue of sensory
deprivation? When we think of sensory deprivation, what we tend to think of is the lights
are turned off and there is absolute silence. As I understand in the AdMax at Florence, the
lights are kept on all day and the temperature is kept the same all day and the outside
world is rarely, if ever, glimpsed. What are those effects?

S: First of all, people need to recognize that, you know one of the arguments that is made
is that the conditions of these super-max facilities don’t approach those of the sensory
deprivation experiment. What people are forgetting conveniently is that the sensory
deprivation experiments were actually begun as a way of studying phenomenon that was
occurring in prison. In fact, it was the Korean prisoners of war and the concern about the
brainwashing of those individuals and the severe mental disturbance developing among
the American prisoners of war in Korea that led to the laboratory experimentation on
profound sensory deprivation. So, clearly to the extent that the research on profound
sensory deprivation was of value, there was a value of explaining a phenomenon which
was seen and found in political prisoners in Russia and China and among American
prisoners of war. Basically, while profound sensory deprivation in susceptible individuals
may produce a psychiatric reaction more quickly than it will in say a prison setting,
remember that the laboratory experiment involved people remaining in those conditions
for only a few hours, whereas in a prison setting we are talking about weeks, months,
even years.
In addition, there has been a fair amount of evidence that it isn’t a lack of sensory
stimulation but a lack of perceptually informative, meaningful kind of stimulation that is
really of importance. In other words, if you put someone in an absolutely quiet sort of
room, you are going to get some degree of psychiatric disturbance. Now, if you change
those conditions, and you put that same individual in a room and add 80 decibels of white
noise, you are going to get those disturbances much more quickly. It’s not going to take a
longer period of time, it’s going to take less. So, one of the problems in the prison setting
is not only do you have a lack of meaningful perceptual stimulation, but that stimulation
which is available is often very noxious, very offensive: offensive smells, offensive
noises, and what you are doing is basically adding to the toxicity of that environment.
Keeping the lights on 24 hours a day in and of itself is known to cause significant
psychiatric disturbances. It is going to interfere massively with the sleep/wake up cycle.
We’re talking about the need to maintain an adequate sense of alertness in the face of
perceptual deprivation. Now if you add to that disturbance in the sleep/wake up cycle,
you’re going to increase the problem. So one of the worst things you can do for people is
to keep the lights on 24 hours a day. Obviously what you need is to keep the lights on
roughly 16 hours a day and keep them turned way down the other 8. And that’s not
happening in a lot of maximum facilities, not just Florence, apparently.
L: Now if you know these things because of your area of work, since you are a courtrecognized expert in this area, and I know things like this just from life on the street and
the stories you hear, and if we’ve arrived at the same conclusions, can you conjecture as
to why these sorts of behaviors continue to be institutionalized?
S: Yes. I think that’s a pretty sobering subject. Because I have been recognized as an
expert in this area, and it isn’t because I’m so profoundly bright. The first time I was
brought in to look at a prison setting, actually I was pretty cynical when I was brought
into it, I didn’t think I was going to find anything. But I did find something and it was
shocking to see what I found - that these inmates were so ill, that they all tended to be ill
in very similar kinds of ways and they were so frightened of what was happening to them
that they weren’t exaggerating their illness. They were tending to minimize it, to deny it.
They were scared of it.

The difference is, I think that I was an outsider and the really sobering fact is that the
people who work in these settings day after day have seemed to, over time, lose their
capacity to be shocked by the kinds of things that they see. There is a kind of brutalizing
effect of the prison environment which, I think, makes everyone who is a part of it more
sick, sicker. It makes prisoners sicker; and I think it also makes the corrections officers
sicker. I have actually had the opportunity to consult and lecture groups of corrections
officers in Massachusetts where I live and talking about the stress of working in that kind
of environment. It is an enormously stressful kind of thing and it does tend to lead to a
kind of brutalization, a kind of sadism and it really is a kind of thing that, “There, but for
the grace of God, go I.” I think that, if you live in that kind of environment day after day,
it does things to you. I was up at Pelican Bay, that community around Crescent City,
California which is a very rural relatively poor community in California. Pelican Bay
State Prison became the biggest employer in the region. But, I was talking to some of the
corrections officers and they were talking about what was happening to some of their
friends — the rate of alcoholism had skyrocketed, spousal abuse, suicide. Working in that
environment may put money in your pocket, but over time it destroys you
psychologically and brings out rage and sadism and violence and brutality. The sobering
thought is that, if you live in those kinds of environments too long, you start losing some
of your own humanity. And you stop experiencing the shock of brutality and inhumanity
that those of us outside the system never thought would still exist in this country. But it
does. And if you look at the super-max facilities, that’s where you are going to find it.
Leo Grieb
Stuart Grassian

When The Prison Gates Slam
When the prison gates slam behind an inmate, he does not lose his human quality; his
mind does not become closed to ideas; his intellect does not cease to feed on a free and
open interchange of opinions; his yearning for self respect does not end; nor is his quest
for self-realization concluded. If anything, the need for identity and self-respect are more
compelling in the dehumanizing prison environment. Whether an 0. Henry writing his
short stories in a jail cell or a frightened young inmate writing his family, a prisoner
needs a medium for self-expression.
U.S. Supreme Court Justice
Thurgood Marshall,
Procunierv. Martinez, 1974

This pamphlet is the collective effort of many people on both sides of the walls. It
evolved out of years of dialogue with prisoners enduring control unit conditions. I would
especially like to thank Ojore Lutalo who has been living in enforced sensory deprivation
in the Management Control Unit at Trenton State Prison in New Jersey for 12 years. It is
Ojore’s survival discipline upon which I based the original letter to Ronald Epps. The
response to the correspondence between Ronald and myself prompted the National
Campaign To Stop Control Unit Prisons, California Prison Focus and the American
Friends Service Committee to produce this pamphlet. Many thanks go to each of the
courageous contributors. Special appreciation goes also to Holbrook Teter of the
California Prison Focus without whose vision and hard work this would not have been
completed. And we ALL want to thank Patrick Sheldon from the Oberlin Prison
Awareness Group for his patient typing of the manual.
There can be no excuse or condoning the use of isolation or sensory deprivation for
prisoners. Human Rights groups all over the country have decried this practice which is
certainly inhumane and arguably torture. These control units and supermax prisons
seriously violate the rights of prisoners. They are used to incapacitate and demoralize
those held in them. This pamphlet is one humble attempt by those enduring this brutality
to help others enduring this brutality. It is important to us that each of you forced to live
in such circumstances maintain your mental and physical health. In 1974, Ruchell Cinque
Magee noted: “Those people in this judicial system, their concern is not for justice, as
they claim. That is what they come in disguise of, to strip people of everything. When I
say strip, I mean rob, murder, exploit, intimidate, harass, persecute, everything to destroy
the mind and body. They seek to take a person and make a complete vegetable of them.”
Ruchell spent more than 25 years living in forced isolation in California prisons.
It seems to me that Assata Shakur’s poem “Affirmation”, which is so strong a statement
in the human ability to overcome, belongs in these pages.

I believe in living.
I believe in the spectrum
of Beta days and Gamma people.
I believe in sunshine
in windmills and waterfalls,
tricycles and rocking chairs.
And I believe that seeds grow into sprouts,
And sprouts grow into trees.
I believe in the magic of the hands.

And in the wisdom of the eyes.
I believe in rain and tears.
And in the blood of infinity.
I believe in life.
And I have seen the death parade
march through the torso of the earth,
sculpting mud bodies in its path.
I have seen the destruction of the daylight,
and seen the bloodthirsty maggots
prayed to and saluted.
I have seen the kind become the blind
and the blind become the bind
in one easy lesson.
I have walked on cut glass.
I have eaten crow and blunder bread
and breathed the stench of indifference.
I have been locked by the lawless.
Handcuffed by the haters.
Gagged by the greedy.
And, if I know anything at all,
it’s that a wall is just a wall
and nothing more at all.
It can be broken down.
I believe in living.
I believe in birth.
I believe in the sweat of love
and in the fire of truth.
And I believe that a lost ship,

steered by tired, seasick sailors,
can still be guided home
to port.
Again, deep thanks to each of you for your contribution.
Bonnie Kerness

This manual has been compiled and edited by
Bonnie Kerness
Associate Director
Criminal Justice Program
American Friends Service Committee
972 Broad Street, 6th Floor
Newark, New Jersey 07102
Holbrook Teter
Human Rights Committee
California Prison Focus
2489 Mission Street, #28
San Francisco, California 94110



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